Movie Information

Genre: Music Mystery Thriller
Director: Jean-Jacques Beineix
Starring: Frederic Andrei, Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Richard Bohringer, Thuy An Luu
Rated: R

Early in Jean-Jacques Beineix’s directorial debut, Diva (1981), the character Gorodish (Richard Bohringer, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover) is described as “going through his cool period.” Much the same could be said of Beineix with this film — a work that simply oozes cool, but in a very special way. Beineix had spent 10 years working as an assistant director (not the best route to a directing job) when he made Diva, and he obviously knew this was his one big chance.

As a result, he crafted the most attention-getting film possible — and it worked. Suddenly, French movies were hip again (it helped that U.S. and U.K. movies were entering a rather unhip phase, to say the least). He dropped back to the foundations of the French New Wave — both stylistically and in choice of material. The mystery thriller was a fundamental of the Cahiers du Cinema — the French film magazine that helped give birth to the New Wave movement — crowd. But he also made it his own, adding elements of more fantasticated romance and intellectualism.

At bottom, it’s a stylish thriller about a young man, Jules (Frederic Andrei), who makes a bootleg recording of a famous opera singer (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez). The recording gets mixed up with one that incriminates a police official in racketeering and murder, setting the thriller plot in motion. However, the thriller aspect — entertaining as it is — is ultimately secondary to the characterizations and the film’s all-pervasive style. It’s a beautifully layered work that’s much more than a showcase for Beineix’s talent.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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